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Intoxication Defense

Intoxication Defense

The Criminal Defense of Intoxication

Many alleged crimes are committed while the defendant is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Alcohol and drugs tend to impair our judgement in a negative way which leads some of us to engage in criminal behavior. There are various levels of impairment of alcohol and drugs. The criminal laws in Louisiana require different levels of intent as well. Therefore, these two factors must be considered when analyzing a set of facts and the defense of intoxication.  Intoxication is an affirmative defense and the burden is on the defendant to establish it.  

Intoxication Defense in Louisiana – La RS 14:15

The Louisiana statute for Intoxication defense states that the fact of an intoxicated or drugged condition of the offender at the time of the commission of the crime is immaterial, except as follows:

(1)  Involuntary Intoxication:  Where the production of the intoxicated or drugged condition has been involuntary, and the circumstances indicate this condition is the direct cause of the commission of the crime, the offender is exempt from criminal responsibility. 

(2)  Voluntary Intoxication:  Where the circumstances indicate that an intoxicated or drugged condition has precluded the presence of a specific criminal intent or of special knowledge required in a particular crime, this fact constitutes a defense to a prosecution for that crime.  Basically, this means that even if the intoxication was voluntary, it could be a defense to a crime if the defendant did not intend the criminal consequences to happen.

Involuntary Intoxication Defense

Defenses based on involuntary intoxication are very rare and judges see them as suspicious.  Involuntary intoxication may occur when someone is forced to take drugs or alcohol. For instance, a college student that is forced to drink large amounts of alcohol by other fraternity members, leading him to become intoxicated, could be argued to be involuntary intoxication.

Another common form of involuntary intoxication is when a woman claims that someone put a “something” in her drink. She may try to use her intoxicated condition as a defense for later criminal behavior. However, this defense is usually not a good one because if someone actually did put something in her drink, she would likely be unconscious and incapable of any behavior, much less criminal behavior. The Louisiana law makes clear that the direct cause of the commission of the crime was from being drugged. Therefore, the defendant would have to show that she wouldn’t have committed the DWI or Disturbing the Peace if she was just consuming her alcoholic beverage without the alleged “drug” in the drink.  This would be very difficult to prove.

The involuntary intoxication defense in Louisiana will work if the judge or jury finds that:

(1) that the defendant was intoxicated or drugged; and

(2) that his intoxicated or drugged condition was produced involuntarily; and

(3) that his intoxicated or drugged condition was the direct cause of the offense charged

Example of Involuntary Intoxication Defense

In this set of facts, the defense of involuntary intoxication might work. Let’s use the usual date drug scenario in which a man and woman are at the bar drinking and having a good time. The man places a crushed-up Rohypnol (“roofie”) in her drink. She drinks it without noticing the crushed pill. Before the pill starts to affect her body, they leave the bar and begin walking. However, the drug kicks in and her body goes limp while crossing the street. She falls in the middle of the street and is left there by the man. She is now blocking traffic. Police officer arrests her for Obstructing of a Highway of Commerce, basically for blocking the road. In this scenario, she might have a great defense of involuntary intoxication because she was noticeably intoxicated or drugged, it was produced involuntarily, and it was the cause of the crime. She wouldn’t be laying there unless she was drugged. Nevertheless, she would have to be able to prove she was drugged involuntarily. Getting a drug test the following day would help to prove that if it came back positive for the drug. The judge or jury would have to believe her testimony at trial that she didn’t take the drug voluntarily.

Voluntary Intoxication Defense

A claim of voluntary drunkenness leading to a lack of specific intent to commit a particular offense is more common and more credible, although a defense based on the use of drugs or alcohol may be seen by the jury as an aggravating factor rather than a defense. The jury could just conclude that since the defendant got himself drunk, he should deal with whatever consequences follow. There is very little sympathy for defendants by judges and juries when using voluntary intoxication as a defense. But, it can work.

Claiming an alcoholic black-out or not remembering the events around the offense is insufficient to disprove an offender’s lack of specific intent if the evidence shows the accused did act at the time with specific intent.  Just claiming the black-out won’t get you out of trouble. It is not a defense to say, “I don’t remember that.” The defendant would have to be able to prove that the voluntary intoxication negated special intent or special knowledge needed to commit the crime. It is not a defense to a crime calling for only general criminal intent.  An exception exists, however, if the intoxicated condition was such that the offender is unconscious of his actions and physically unable to act. Needless to say, the factual circumstances where this could happen are very limited. In one case, the accused was charged with escaping from prison. His defense was that he was so drunk at the time that he was unconscious and another person actually carried him out without his knowledge or consent.


Intoxication is Not Considered a Mental Disease

Regarding proving intent, intoxication is not considered a mental disease or defect so as to bring into play the question of whether the accused knew right from wrong at the time of the crime. Even if the accused was so drunk as to be unable to distinguish right from wrong, that would not be a defense as long as he still maintained the specific intent to commit the prohibited act. The only exception appears to be when the offender, because of excessive drinking over a period of time, developed a mental disease or defect as a result which renders him incapable of knowing right from wrong.  However, substance abuse issues shoud be treated after arrest. We help our clients obtain the necessary treatment. We make the courts understand that our client has obtained treatment which can help thier criminal case.

Example of Voluntary Intoxication as a Defense

In order to convict the defendant of the offense charged, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had the specific intent to commit the crime.

The voluntary intoxication defense in Louisiana will work if the judge or jury finds that the defendant was in such an intoxicated or drugged condition that he did not have the the specific intent or special knowledge required to commit the offense charged.

Let’s say the defendant is at the bar getting hammered. He leaves the bar stumbling to the side of the building to smoke a bowl as well as finishing off the last few Xanax he had before heading home. He is completely wasted and many people see his condition as he basically crawls to a red Honda in the parking lot to pass out.  Later, the owner of the vehicle finds him in their car trying to start the vehicle with his key. Police come. Our friend is arrested for Simple Burglary.  Simple burglary includes the unauthorized entering of a vehicle and requires specific intent to commit a theft or felony while therein. So, he was trying to take the vehicle. However, he too owns a red Honda. His red Honda was parked next to the one he entered. He crawled into the wrong car trying to get home.  He lacked the specific intent to commit a theft of the vehicle due to being wasted. This defense might work. Also, the defense of Mistake of Fact could be utilized. Either way, he lacked the specific intent to commit a theft of the vehicle. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a simple burglary.


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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is not formal legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

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